Everybody is loving this weather. I should be, I love the sunshine. But I just find myself feeling sad, a peculiar kind of melancholy.
Its like the last days of a holiday romance, that bittersweet feeling of loss after the magic of making a connection. And yes, look, even the trees know its over. Flashes of gold and red and brown amidst the green.
And the last of the day’s sunlight looks cold, or at least distant. ” Lets not say goodbye, Ill just go. Oh please dont look sad, you always knew it wouldnt last.”
You just know how its going to end. You’re going to wake up soon, maybe not tomorrow, maybe not the next day. And you’re going to know its time to put on a coat.
This past couple of months I’ve been working my way through a little project, get hold of as much of Prince’s catalogue as I could – the bits that I didn’t own myself already. Which meant, apart from a couple of compilations and the Gold album almost everything from the last 20 years. Then I made it my business to get to know as much of it as I could. I’ve always been a Prince fan, but I’d given up on him around 2000 when he went internet only. Just happened to coincide with a time when I had no internet access anywhere and if something goes out of sight, sometimes it’s out of mind too. And besides, he had lost it, hadn’t he, he wasn’t making anything interesting…
It’s one of those statements that everybody accepts as gospel when it comes to music isn’t it, that Prince was at his best during that golden (Purple)patch between about 1982 and 1989. And I did already own all the albums from that era, and love them. Listening to the old favourites in amidst a lot of new material made me realise how much I loved the old stuff. And the next handful of tracks in particular.
There are some great extended versions of tracks from that period that I never owned, but a couple of old friends of mine, who are Prince obsessives, did, and it’s thanks to them that I got hold of some of those. And go bonkers over them I did, including this great version of I Would Die 4 U, which sounds like a live jam. Whatever it is, it’s brilliant, perhaps better than the album version.
This is from the same era, and probably my absolute favourite Prince track. Erotic City; I think it’s perfect, and sounds like nobody else but Prince, and is, for all it’s obviousness, actually sexy, and sensuous, and dreamy. I never tire of it, listen to it quite regularly.
Be warned, this is a very bad video!
This next one from Lovesexy, Ann Stesia, is in my top ten Prince tracks, I don’t know why, it, in much the same way as Erotic City, sounds like the ultimate distillation of a certain Prince style. I love it’s build up, and the full on singalong end, it’s dramatic and moody and sexy.
So, listening to all this music, 20 years worth, did it change my opinion that Prince was long past his peak? Well, no. I didn’t come out of the experience thinking that he had actually gotten better and was improving all the time. There are too many loose funk jams, and dodgy hip hop/rnb influenced things. But there were weak moments on all his albums in the past too. There are some gems amidst the later catalogue. One Nite Alone, from about 2002 is just Prince, a piano and a few other instruments/arrangements. And it’s gorgeous, like Sometimes It Snows In April spread out over a whole album. There’s a Joni Mitchell cover on there, A Case Of You, which while lovely, is not the strongest track. As an album it’s apparently hard to track down, but it’s worth it. One of my favourite Prince albums already.
And spread across the albums are lots of little Prince moments, funky little things that suddenly open up into sunshine choruses, the way older tracks like Controversy or Strange Relationship did. This is one of them, Love, from his 3121 album. It’s one of my favourite Prince tricks, the way he can pull a pop melody out, like a rabbit from a hat.
There are loads more tracks I could post. Like I said it’s not suddenly turned Prince’s career on it’s head where hes making better music now than ever. But it’s been interesting, because sat in the middle of 30 years of music some of Prince’s older things don’t sound as good as they used to, and some more recent songs stand out as potentially becoming favoured over the old ‘classics’. It’s all the more interesting due to a lot of this happening out of sight, it’s like discovering something valuable in the attic, or at the least finding a some money in an old pair of trousers!
I’ve been digesting the complete works of a label called Anticon these past few weeks. Anticon started off as an ‘alternative’ hip hop label, intelligent and quirky. An ‘Indie’ hip hop label that has been going for over a decade now and has spread further than hip hop, taking in Indie guitar, quirky electronics and other stuff that takes you by surprise. If you like any of the following you will like this label: DJ Shadow, Andy Weatherall, The Beastie Boys, Massive Attack, the Warp label, Four Tet, Talking Heads, Brian Eno, Gorillaz. There are oddities too, like the Sigur Ros autumnal sumptuousness of Anathallo’s 4th album Canopy Glow.
The label has a huge number of crossover points, artists collaborate, different groups are made up of the same people. One of those artists, who has just released a new album is Alias. Alias started off as a rapper and has since moved into production and instrumental based tunes. Like a lot of the label’s work, his work has a strong smell of spliff across it, this is what the 90s called ‘head nodding’ music. Trip Hop is another label you might want to throw in it’s direction.
Back in 2005 he produced an album called Lilian, where he worked with his brother under the name Alias & Ehren. Alias provides electronic hip hop grooves and his brother Ehren provides live instrumentation, sax, flute and clarinet for starters. And it is a gorgeous album, beautiful beats under lovely melodies, one of the best albums I’ve heard this year. How did I miss this stuff?